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Sans titre

Sans titre, 1986

Per Kirkeby
  • Artist (1938)

The Danish painter, sculptor, writer, philosopher and filmmaker,  Per Kirkeby (born in Copenhagen in 1938) is a major figure in Scandinavian contemporary art.  A geologist by training, who graduated in 1964 from Copenhagen University, Per Kirkeby also studied at the Eksperimenterende Kunst-skole (School of Experimental Art) in 1962.  Between 1958 and 1965 he took part in many scientific expeditions, in particular to Greenland and Australia, during which the eye of the scientist overlapped with that of the artist.  In the 1960s, he struck up friendships with Joseph Beuys and members of the avant-garde Fluxus movement.  Subsequently, influenced by Abstract Expressionism, he developed activities focused on landscape, studying and transmitting the world surrounding him.  Known for his canvases close to abstraction and German neo-Expressionism, for his sculptures in the round made of bricks, and his bronzes, Per Kirkeby developed a vision of nature through sedimentation.  For the artist, everything is intermingled, paintings and sculptures are part of the same research.  His area of investigation into the landscape was also conveyed in writings, novels, essays (Per Kirkeby, Bravura, ENSBA, Paris, 1998) and films (Is Geology Really A Science?, 1980).  He showed his work for the first time in 1965 at the Den Frie Gallery in Copenhagen, and his first major exhibition was held in Germany at the Museum Folkwang in Essen in 1977.  Since then, his work has been exhibited in Europe and the United States, notably at the Tate Gallery in London in 1998.  In 1971, he was Denmark’s curator at the Paris Biennial, and he became a member of the Danish Academy in 1982.  He taught painting at the Karlsruhe Academy of Fine Arts, and then at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. 

The painting Untitled reveals the artist’s terrestrial conception, in which every picture is read like a geological cross-section, featuring the depth of the strata and the diversity of underground movements.  Painting layer by layer, Per Kirkeby develops his canvases very slowly, with the final layer sometimes remaining the only visible one.  In this canvas, Per Kirkeby tries to crystallize the fluidity of the colours of nature.  Organized in streaks, large areas of colour are overlaid in a transparent or opaque way.  From one stroke to the next, the tones mix and contaminate each other.  The colour, the light structuring the space, and the tactile qualities of the surface, make reminiscences of landscape dense.  In this way a vision of nature is formed through accumulations of layers, perspectives and dizzy-making effects which help the eye to plunge to the heart of the matter, beyond the surface of the canvas.

Nadine Labedade